Oxford Admissions Tests: A Quick Guide To The LAT (Language Aptitude Test)

What is the LAT (Language Aptitude Test)?

One of the most famous and unique Oxbridge admissions tests is Oxford’s Language Aptitude Test, which is effectively a linguistic challenge where applicants are given short examples from an artificial language, and asked to translate sentences of increasing length and difficulty from and into this invented language in thirty minutes. (Linguistics tutors at Oxford often fight over the chance to make up this year’s LAT language!).



In order to study languages at Oxford, either post-A-Level or as a Beginner’s* language, all applicants must take these associated admissions tests in early November. 


*On occasion, Beginner’s courses are called ‘ab initio’ courses (meaning ‘from scratch’ in Latin)

The Modern Languages Admissions Test (MLAT) includes all admissions tests for prospective language(s) students. This includes the LAT, which is only for those applying to Beginner’s language courses, while the other sections of the MLAT are designed to test applicants’ knowledge of their post-A-Level language (incl. grammar, translation, advanced vocabulary). If more than one test is required, they will be taken in the same sitting. Applicants for Linguistics or Philosophy alongside a language will find that these admissions tests are also included in the MLAT booklet.

How can I take a test in a made-up language?

Below, we’ll explore the ins and outs of the LAT as it can be pretty mystifying for those who have never come across it. We will go through Section A from the 2015 paper and try our hand at that year’s language, ‘Plonk’.

Before we begin, let’s define some key terms:

  • Subject– the person or thing which performs the action of a verb, e.g. ‘he throws the ball’ – ‘he’ is the subject.
  • Object– the person or thing the action of a verb is done to, e.g. ‘the ball is being thrown’ – the ball is the object.
  • Transitive – a transitive verb requires an object after it to make sense, e.g. ‘he throws the ball.’ This sentence would not make sense if we just wrote ‘he throws.’
  • Intransitive– an intransitive verb does not require an object after it to make sense, e.g., ‘the girl is talking’ or ‘the boy shivers’ – these sentences make sense without objects.
  • Prefix (beginning) vs suffix (ending) –  ‘beginning’ or ‘ending’ added to a word for a grammatical purpose e.g. to indicate something is plural, English speakers add an ‘s’ suffix, e.g. ‘dog’ becomes ‘dogs.’

Taking The LAT

Firstly, the LAT paper provides some key rules before the test so be sure not to skip ahead to the examples.

What we know so far

Thanks to the advice from the test, we know three grammatical rules of Plonk:

1) There are no definite or indefinite articles

-Plonk has no specific words for ‘a’ or ‘the’

-’a ball’ vs ‘the ball’ = in Plonk, these may be differentiated somehow without the articles ‘a’ or ‘the’


2) Simple and progressive tenses are not differentiated

-in Plonk,— ‘I am looking’=’I look’ have the same meaning

-‘I was looking’=’I looked’ have the same meaning


3) The word order is fixed

-the order of the subject(s), verb(s) and object(s) is always the same

-in English: subject + verb + object (I throw the ball)

Initial Impressions

Based on words which are very similar, we can deduce certain differences:

qaknilt postola           The postman is waiting

sebnurt postole         The postwoman comes

qaknilt postola            The postman is waiting

sebnurt postole          The postwoman comes

4) Nouns ending in ‘a’ are the masculine version, while those ending in ‘e’ are the feminine.  


5) With intransitive verbs, the word order in Plonk is: ‘verb + subject’ (whereas in English, the word order is: ‘subject + verb’).

Further Detail

Now we know these rules, we can look for other differences which might be significant:

qapab nabaza              The rooster is talking

sekniltit nabazaze        The hens are waiting

These nouns are different because of both their grammatical gender and plurality, and now we know what makes nouns feminine (the ‘e’ ending), we can see how this noun has been made plural: 

6) The final two letters of a noun are repeated to make the noun plural.


The gender suffix on a noun is not included as one of its final letters

Verb Rules

How about we take a look at some verbs? Like the nouns, we need to know if verbs change according to gender and if so, how? Using the same examples as before, we can see how a verb changes based on gender as the following two subjects are both singular.

qaknilt postola            The postman is waiting

sebnurt postole          The postwoman comes

qapab nabaza             The rooster is talking

sekniltit nabazaze       The hens are waiting

7) Verbs with masculine subjects begin with ‘qa’ while those with feminine subjects begin with ‘se’


Top Tip: don’t base your rules on just one data point, can you find another example in section A or elsewhere in the paper which supports rule number seven?

Animate vs inanimate

So far, we haven’t thought about whether the grammar can differ depending on human vs non-human or living vs non-living (inanimate) subjects. If we examine the only two sentences in section A with non-living subjects, we notice that a non-living subject’s verb begins with an ‘i’ rather than ‘qa’ or ‘se’.

igrak plazayi                 The door creaks

iterbeb namakaki         The letters are burning

8) Verbs with non-living subjects begin with ‘i’

As the test itself recommends, it is important to do the three sections in order so that you don’t get confused or overwhelmed, since the exercises gradually increase in difficulty. Nonetheless, it can sometimes be helpful to check your rules against the sentences provided in other sections in the paper.

Your turn!

So far, we have deduced eight rules about the grammar of ‘Plonk’ from the first section of the 2015 paper. Either to kickstart your revision, or simply to enjoy a stimulating linguistic puzzle, why not see if you can answer the first set of questions under Section A? 

qadalq cuvuha _____________________________________________ [3]

sepabab postolole __________________________________________ [4]

Could you go even further and complete the whole test

Want more practice? 

Have a look at our list of MLAT Past Papers (with mark schemes)

The UK Linguistics Olympiad is a national linguistics competition for school-aged children in the UK. The format of the tests is often similar to the Oxford Language Aptitude Test, so you can practice for the LAT by going through some of the UK Linguistics Olympiad’s past papers.

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